Bleeding Cubbie Blue
To all those that don't know...I'm a Cubs fan. There were days when I tried to keep this away from readers, when I swore I would keep a professional stance on my writing. But, I've discovered the blogging world is meant for being personal, so I've admitted my allegiance to Cubbie Blue. I'll have the great Christian Ruzich in for an Organizational Meeting as early as tomorrow, but I wanted to write my piece on the Cubs first. Enjoy.
While the pain of the Cubs losses still burns in the hearts of Cubs fans, Jim Hendry has moved on, already optimistic about next season. Hendry proved during the 2003 season he would be willing to acquire any player at any time to improve this team, shown by the Cubs six midseason acquisitions. Chicago traded for Derrek Lee last week, indicating they are willing to forego their future and go for it in 2004. While many criticized the Cubs for the move, no one can deny their urgency to win. Yesterday, the AP announced the Cubs have signed LaTroy Hawkins to a three-year, $11M deal. This will give Jim Hendry $15M to spend on free agents, which I will discuss in more detail in this article. First, a few of Hawkins' numbers:
Hawkins: 74G 1.86 69H/77.1IP 74K/15BB
Vs. RH: .263/.287/.322 Vs. LH: .205/.257/.320
Home: 1.21ERA 42/44.2 48/7 Road: 2.76ERA 27/32.2 27/8
Pre-ASB: 2.56 42/45.2 53/10 Post-ASB: 0.85 27/31.2 22/5
Interesting numbers. Hawkins actually had a reverse-platoon split last season, pitching better against left-handers. He has always pitched very well in the Metrodome, so I would be suprised to see his ERA stay under 2.00 this season. But, his numbers after the break were fantastic, despite a K/9 rate that suffered a big drop from the first half. Anyway, here's a look at the rightie/leftie splits of those in the bullpen right now:
Borowski: .204/.272/.243 vs. RH .212/.243/.365 vs. LH
Farnsworth: .199/.280/.315 vs. RH .189/.295/.256 vs. LH
Remlinger: .180/.301/.323 vs. RH .263/.343/.442 vs. LH
Hawkins: .263/.287/.322 vs. RH .205/.257/.320 vs. LH
Surprisingly Farnsworth, Remlinger, and Hawkins all showed reverse-platoon splits last season, with Remlinger's being the largest. While his changeup works wonders against right-handers, lefties have an easier time picking it up. Last season's second LOOGY, Mark Guthrie, fared no better against left-handers (.280/.385/.480), which often posed a problem. The team will need a LOOGY able to stabilize left-handers this season, as Dusty Baker is more apt to go LH vs. LH than bringing in Farnsworth. Also, it appears Hawkins will work in the 8th, Remlinger in the 7th, and Farnsworth's role is up in the air. He'll likely stay in one-inning roles, and the Cubs will have a bullpen that doesn't force the starting rotation to pitch so much. The team's other bullpen need appears to be a multi-inning reliever, one that takes out right-handers very well. On to my choices...
Second LOOGY: Mike Myers
Middle Reliever: Scott Sullivan
Myers will be the less popular of the choices, as he has come off a season with a 5.70ERA. Looking at his career numbers, he tends to bounce back quite often, and also looks like the product of managerial misuse. Myers, a side-armed southpaw, retired lefties well this season (.237/.314/.421), but was horrendous against right-handers (.290/.430/.377). The Cubs bullpen will be deep enough so that Dusty Baker could never allow him to face a right-hander, which should push Myers' ERA down to a more reasonable amount. Also, coming off such a bad season, Myers will be cheap, likely signing for under one million.
Sullivan should be a little more sought after, as he's pitched in at least 59 games in every season since 1997. He was a killer against right-handers last season (.187/.300/.313), and can pitch in every role imaginable. Sullivan is the quintessential middle reliever, so I expect his services to be courted more than Myers. If the Cubs end up paying Scott $2M per season, don't be alarmed, he's worth it.
The bullpen was only a minor concern last season, especially considering the struggles an often-enemic Cubs offense endured. Chicago finished 9th in the NL in runs scored, and that would have been worse if not for the deadline acquisitions of Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. Lee will help, adding another big bat to the lineup, although fans worry the team will be far too right-handed. Let's consider what they have now, leaving second base out of the equation:
D. Miller: .226/.300/.391 vs. RH .248/.333/.321 vs. LH
D. Lee: .256/.358/.486 vs. RH .333/.462/.600 vs. LH
A. Gonzalez: .228/.293/.416 vs. RH .228/.301/.382 vs. LH
A. Ramirez: .268/.324/.436 vs. RH .285/.322/.562 vs. LH
M. Alou: .260/.346/.432 vs. RH .346/.399/.567 vs. LH
C. Patterson:.301/.333/.527 vs. RH .289/.316/.468 vs. LH
S. Sosa: .265/.336/.549 vs. RH .333/.440/.571 vs. LH
Well, that's quite the split. When adding cumulatively, the current Cub 7 has a .257 average against right-handers, and they bat .294 against lefties. But I must say Damian Miller and Alex Gonzalez drag that ranking down, and one should be removed from the starting lineup. Miller would make more sense, as Gonzalez provides Gold Glove defense, along with very timely hitting. But, first and foremost, the Cubs need a leadoff hitter.
We've already said that the team lacks a second basemen, and that the team is missing a true leadoff hitter. The best that was on the market, Luis Castillo, signed a three-year lucrative deal with the Marlins yesterday. That leaves little available through free agency, as Todd Walker and Fernando Vina aren't very exciting options. The trade market is the most logical place to find the right player, and many point to either Ray Durham, Jose Vidro, or a pair of Baltimore middle infielders.
Ray Durham and Jose Vidro are both expensive players, each commanding well over $5M next season. Both would be quite expensive through trades, with either Farnsworth or Juan Cruz likely being a necessary part of each deal. But, each has their flaws, which include Durham's non-productivity away from Pac Bell, and Vidro not fitting the role the Cubs need. I feel a very good option can be found in Baltimore, in which the Cubs would pay little monetarily and in trade value, but still find the right player to fill the void. Who is that? Jerry Hairston Jr.
Hairston finished the season with modest numbers (.271/.353/.372), although a broken bone in his right foot raise a lot of "What If" questions. Such as, what if Hairston hadn't gotten injured, and continued on his superb April (.298/.394/.452 9SB)? He's right-handed, although each of the last two seasons has shown a preference for right-handed pitching. He is a very good baserunner, likely good for 40SB if his foot doesn't bother him again. Furthermore, Hairston is the son of a ballplayer, grew up in Chicago's western suburbs, and played ball at Southern Illinois. While Hairston's name may not pop into your head when you think of prototypical leadoff men, for a small, replaceable cost like Dave Kelton and Sergio Mitre, why not give it a try?
If the team takes my advice at second base and to fill out the bullpen, we're looking at about $11M left for Jim Hendry to either add a better 5th starter, another bat, or God's bench. My choice? One more bat. As I showed earlier, Damian Miller was a hazard to our lineup, and Paul Bako (arbitration-eligible) should be non-tendered. The market for 2B is extremely small, as the Twins and A's traded their catchers for teams in need, just to go for players payed at the minimum. Florida will either go with Pudge or Ramon Castro, and the Orioles are much too worried about Vladimir Guerrero than their 2004 catcher. That puts Jim Hendry in the driver's seat, and all available catchers seeing their price decline.
Javy Lopez set the single-season home run record for catchers in 2003, but is likely frustrated by a lack of phone calls. I mean, he just turned 33, and catcher's can't hit into their thirties, right? Well, it's a hard theory to argue, but I propose we test it. Lopez would be a gamble, but with Miller at back-up and millions to spend, it's one Hendry can afford to lose. I mean, Javy didn't quite break down in the second half (.357/.411/.755), did he? And while some will roll their eyes that this is just another right-handed bat, I can fight that. It would be a worry if the Cubs were very susceptible to right-handed pitching, but by bringing in Hairston and Lopez, that strengthens our team...
Lopez vs. RH: .326/.379/.611
Lopez vs. LH: .336/.373/.718
Barring even a small letdown, Lopez would be much better against right-handers than Miller, and we would be looking at a group of position players that looks like this:
C- Javy Lopez
1B- Derrek Lee
2B- Jerry Hairston
SS- Alex Gonzalez
3B- Aramis Ramirez
LF- Moises Alou
CF- Corey Patterson
RF- Sammy Sosa
That's a very solid lineup, and after throwing in the numbers we would bat an estimated .269 against right-handers, and .303 vs. southpaws. While that's an improvement, it would definitely call for a bench that favors right-handers, and one that is heavy with left-handed bats. I have said keep Damian Miller, and I advocate retaining Ramon Martinez as our main right-handed bat off the bench. But, I pressure Hendry to not give into temptation, and to non-tender Randall Simon if he can't be inserted in the Jerry Hairston deal. Assuming the bench has five members, we would need another versatile infielder, a corner player with a good left-handed bat, and an outfielder capable of all three positions. My choices:
Jeff Vander Wal
Coincidence that I choose three NL Central players? Well, kinda. Vander Wal is a nice fit, as I expect Matt Stairs to sign a lucrative deal to start somewhere else. Vander Wal could be had for a cool million, and he'd be an asset off the bench. He has experience with first, left, and right, and he's left-handed. Last season Vander Wal hit .270/.363/.502 against right-handers, compared to only .158/.256/.211 against southpaws. He has tons of experience pinch hitting, a World Series ring, and he could give Lee and Alou days off when the time calls.
Palmiero played a pretty significant role with the Cardinals last season, appearing in more than 140 games and finishing with 300+ AB. He also has World Series experience with the 2002 Angels, in which he also served as a fourth outfielder. Palmiero isn't particularly fast, but he plays center and right very well, and has a solid arm. He's also left-handed, and has a drastic affinity for right-handers, .290/.358/.378 vs. .182/.224/.200. Palmiero will never supply a lot of power, but he's a good defensive replacement, and won't embarass himself starting for Patterson if needed in April.
Finally, Geoff Blum has reportedly caught the eye of the Cubs, and I will advocate the signing if the dollar figure doesn't get out of hand. With Morgan Ensberg's emergence and Jose Vizcaino's fat paycheck, it's expected the Astros will non-tender Blum, who was platooning at third early in the season. While Blum is a switch-hitter, his .704 OPS vs. right-handers nearly doubles the pathetic .362 mark he posted against lefties. Blum can man the corners, and has experience at second base as well. In conclusion, a bench of Miller, Martinez, Vander Wal, Palmiero, and Blum would appeal to the Cubs' needs, and come very cheap.
In case your counting, that leaves the team 23 players if you give them four in the starting rotation. I've yet to address the 5th starter's slot, as my choice may not be as sexy as others. I also support a 7-man bullpen, so the last two spots will be going to the fifth starter and the long reliever. Juan Cruz is as solid a choice as any for the fith starter slot, considering he's all but dominated AAA, and could be a valuable trade option when Angel Guzman is ready. But, Cruz is not a reliever, as he's given up a HR every 7 innings in relief roles. So I propose Cruz battles for the fifth starter slot, but not the long relief option.
In contrast, I would argue Todd Wellemeyer should be the long reliever, but not the starter. I'm convinced Wellemeyer's two pitches are better suited for the bullpen, and low pressure situations would surely help Larry Rothschild work on his control. Wellemeyer has great stuff, as he broke the 10IP scoreless mark to start his career. But, he finished slowly, letting walks and home runs become a problem. With a good Spring Training I would hand him the long relief role, and groom him with mop up situations. But, who does Cruz and Wellemeyer compete with?
Glendon Rusch. Please, hold your laughter. No, seriously stop, let me explain myself. The Cubs are hoping for a left-hander for the fith spot, as they already are featuring four power right arms. But, spending millions for Rogers, Estes, Hitchcock, or Oliver doesn't make sense. So, why not give Rusch a non-guaranteed, 600k? He was fantastic after the break, going 0-1 with a 3.23ERA. But in that time he only allowed 42H in 39IP, along with 33 strikeouts and nine walks. Rusch did well in the bullpen, finishing with a 2.35ERA in 13 appearances. Three of his last four starts were very good, and he's entering his peak seasons. While it's laughable to pay seven figures for Rusch, why not give him a chance?
OK, meet my 2003-2004 WTNY Cub-advocated acquisitions...
Mike Myers- LHP
Scott Sullivan- RHP
Jerry Hairston- 2B
Javy Lopez- C
John Vander Wal- OF/1B
Geoff Blum- IF
Orlando Palmiero- OF
Glendon Rusch- LHP
God, are there any Cub fans out there not excited about 2004? If so, consider moving to the South Side.
Finally, I wanted to finish my post today with a few notes. The White Sox traded Aaron Miles to the Colorado Rockies for Juan Uribe, in a deal I hate for the White Sox. The team will apparently go with Jose Valentin at second base, and keep Uribe in the starting slot. But Aaron Miles won the 2003 IL Rookie of the Year, and has hit at every level. If the Rockies give this kid a chance, he will reward them.
Also, many Cub fans have pointed our their desire for Kaz Matsui. Aaron Gleeman wrote a column yesterday predicting Matsui's numbers, very similar to the one I wrote November 3. Gleeman's prediction is .275/.325/.445, which is very close to my .295/.325/.445 choice. Anyway, check back for Christian Ruzich this week, and hopefully we'll have some more baseball news to discuss by the end of the week.